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My First Real Christmas

It was Noel time! That meant some nuns or other nice people might come to our school and pass out candies. This season always excited me because candies were hard to come by, or should I say we didn’t have money to spend on candies.

During Noel time my mom would say, “If people come to pass out candies at your school, don’t eat all of them. Save some for your little sister and brothers!” This always excited me because I loved to see the excitement and happy faces on my young siblings when I brought them candies. As a little girl growing up in Laos, Noel time was candy time! 

One thing that always puzzled me was those little cards that looked like little booklets. There was always a picture of a baby lying on the hay or sometimes held by his mother. Sometimes the nice people who passed out the candies would tell us about the card. The name of the mother was Mary, and her baby’s name was Jesus. I knew there had to be something special about this story; otherwise, they wouldn’t put it in the Noel candy bags.

During Noel time, some people would pass out other pretty cards adorned with colorful pictures of lights, sparkles, snow, decorated pine trees, and nice wishes. This too puzzled me. I desperately hoped one day to experience the scenes on those pretty cards myself – to see a real decorated pine tree, to marvel at the sparkling white snow, to hear real people singing carols and understand what they were singing about, and to discover why we had Noel time. 

In the summer of 1980 when I was thirteen, my family was granted refugee status to the United States, to Sioux Center, Iowa. When we first arrived, the weather was not too much different from Laos, where I grew up, or Thailand, where we lived at the refugee camp. In Iowa we met many nice people and were sponsored by a Christian Reformed church. We were enrolled in school, learned English, and adapted to the new culture quite nicely! 

After the fall season the weather started to get cold, and my first dream came true—it snowed! Then came December. No one had to tell me; I knew this was Noel time. I could tell by all the decorations around town, the school, and everyone’s home. Things were starting to sink in. This is the real deal, I thought. I’m in Noel! Only here they didn’t call it “Noel.” Here they called it “Christmas!”

The church members who sponsored us brought us a real pine tree, which they helped us decorate with lights and top with a lighted star. Oh wait . . . there were also presents under the tree, one for each member of our family. This would be our first Christmas! 

As I learned the meaning of Christmas, I came to understand that Christmas is in the name of Christ Jesus. It was a celebration of the Messiah’s birth. The Messiah was born of the virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ was born into this world, just as promised by God, who sent Him here to save us from sin. The message was very simple but also very complex, both natural and supernatural. The more I tried to analyze it, the more confused I became. 

The only way for me to understand the story was simply to accept the message. I did, and that’s when everything suddenly made sense. At the age of fourteen, I received the Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and at the age of seventeen, I made a confession of faith in a Christian Reformed Church. This decision was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. My love for the Lord has only increased as I have walked with Him daily ever since.

My husband, Mike, and I are currently missionaries to Thailand. One of the most effective means to reach people with the gospel is through Christmas outreaches. At Christmas outreaches, we can freely preach the Good News of Jesus Christ and the message of salvation through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the bridge that God provided for us to come to Him and receive the hope of eternal life. 

As they say, “You don’t miss what you don’t have!” When I was a child, the only thing I thought about Christmas was that it was a time we would get candies. Now that I understand the meaning of Christmas, I miss Christmas. I miss Christ. I want to be with Him every day. I want to know Him more and more. I want to see His heart. I know what I must do: I must return to my first Christmas, my first Love. I must return to Christ! 

By Dara Rasavanh


Dara Rasavanh and her husband, Mike, are Open Bible missionaries to Thailand. She is passionate about bringing the gospel to life by sharing her life’s journey as a survivor of war-torn Southeast Asia who became a refugee as a teenager and found Christ as her Lord and Savior. Dara’s career experience includes real estate, entrepreneur training, and working as a healthcare navigator. Prior to becoming missionaries, Dara and Mike planted Lifesong Church of the Open Bible in Des Moines, Iowa, where they pastored for 20 years. The Rasavanhs have two adult children, Zach and Bella.

If you would like to help the Rasavanhs with their Christmas Outreach, go to bit.ly/MVPrasavanhs

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